I remember wine as always having been a part of my life. It was not the kind that grew on me but one that I had already enjoyed at a young age. I do not remember when my first sip was, but I still remember clearly how humble my understanding of wine was then.
My dad enjoyed wine. He managed a small collection and taught me how to appreciate it. He had thin bottles, bell-shaped bottles, bottles with wires on fatter corks, clear bottles, dark green bottles… and many of the darker ones had cabernet sauvignon written on them. He had wines from the US, Chile, France, New Zealand.
He would open a bottle on special occasions – his birthday, a good mark we got from school, a rare dinner my mom would prepare, guests at home etc.
My mom also liked wine. She preferred white wine to red wine but she drank them both anyway.
On an occasion, I remember learning the secret technique of enjoying wine better: Swirl, sniff, sip.
Swirl the wine to bring out the bouquet. Sniff the bouquet. Finally sip.
I did not even know what “bouquet” meant.
It did not sound too hard and I was not entirely sure what I was supposed to be sniffing, but I did it. Swirl, sniff, sip. I did not understand what wine was all about then. Nor did I know what cabernet sauvignon was. But I swirled, sniffed, and sipped every time my dad decided to have wine.
Cabernet Sauvignon. I had no idea what that meant. But every time my dad opened a bottle of wine, the bottle had these words on the label in some form. I swirled, sniffed and sipped this cabernet sauvignon. It was good and I liked it. I took a mental note of this so every time I would go out and have wine at a restaurant, I ordered Cabernet Sauvignon because I knew it would be good. I thought then it was some sort of level of quality, a measure of goodness. Asking for this in a restaurant gave me some guarantee that the wine I would be having, regardless of where it ultimately came from, would be good. I believed this then.
The cork would come off and the wine would be poured into my glass. And then I carefully execute the steps to better appreciate my wine: swirl, sniff, sip. That familiar bouquet would flood my nostrils and that triggered a pat on the back… I chose right again.
I would understand later on that Cabernet Sauvignon was in fact a grape. What I liked about it was not in fact the “quality” but the style of wine this grape produced. It did not connote quality nor did it mean that all Cabernet Sauvignon wine was good.
Fast forward to January 2013, I joined a wine company. I eventually got introduced to all the other grapes in the wine world, and the value of swirling, sniffing and sipping. I realized that there were more steps to truly appreciating wine. My nose would later understand the difference between ground black pepper, green pepper, mint and vegetables. I tasted berries that are not commonly available in the Philippines to understand what they taste, understand it enough that I may describe wine using these fruits.
Although my formal learning came with joining the industry, I consider the true beginning of my journey was in everything that happened before January 2013. My real first sip into the world of wine was all the compounded experiences and mis-experiences that kept me thirsty for wine. Frankly, with every new learning, every new bottle of wine, every new food pairing comes with a first sip.
Join me on this journey and take many, many first sips with me. Let us navigate this world of wine, grape by grape, region by region, dish by dish, one sip at a time.